Charles Dexter Ward is showing increasingly bizarre behaviour, and his wife Claire hires a private investigator to look into his strange affairs. The investigator, John March, starts peeking around the isolated farmhouse which Charles recently started using after uncovering his family history and discovering that this abandoned farmhouse belonged to his ancestor. Said ancestor’s name was Joseph Curwen, to whom Charles bears an uncanny resemblance. John notices that there are numerous deliveries made to the place, and upon asking Charles himself, he explains that he is undertaking some chemical tests where he uses animal cadavers. While certainly showing off eccentric behaviour, there’s nothing John can use here to offer any explanations to the worried wife. Then, after a man in a neighboring house ends up brutally murdered, where his remains have been attacked and eaten as if by a crazed animal, John starts to believe it’s not a coincidence. He brings Claire with him to the farm in order to confront Charles, but find him in a state where he ends up committed to a hospital. The doctors find that his metabolism is inexplicably high, which causes him to become extremely hungry, and his cravings are for blood and raw meat. John decides he must uncover the secrets of the old farmhouse and what Charles was doing at the place.
The Resurrected (aka The Ancestor and Shatterbrain) is a 1991 horror film directed by Dan O`Bannon, and it’s an adaption of the H.P. Lovecraft novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The screenwriter, Brent V. Friedman, had developed a version of the script which was titled Shatterbrain, while O`Bannon wrote his own ideas and had imagined the title to be The Ancestor. Friedman’s script was mainly used, but O`Bannon also incorporated some of his own ideas into the movie. Interstar Releasing planned for a wide theatrical release in 1991, but they went bankrupt before it could happen and thus it ended up straight to video in 1992. This movie was O`Bannon’s second and final movie as a director, after his directorial debut in 1985 with The Return of the Living Dead.
The Resurrected is not the first film to be based on Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In 1963, Roger Corman made a film called The Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price, which also provides a take on this story but very loosely and mixed with the Edgar Allan Poe’s story by the same name as the film. I haven’t yet seen this one, so can make no comparisons here. I have read the Lovecraft novella, and while it should go without saying that movie adaptions rarely manages to capture the essence of horror and wonder in Lovecraft’s stories (there are, of course, exceptions), this movie actually does follow the original story for the most part, just setting it in more modern times. Many Lovecraft adaptions tend to change so much that the original story is barely recognizable, and some just doesn’t really do the original stories justice. However, this is something I’ve come to terms with a long time ago, I don’t expect any Lovecraft adaption to be on par with the source material. I just want to be entertained. And some of the movie adaptions (both the decent and the bad ones) often manages to do exactly that, so I’m not gonna complain.
Now, most horror movie fans are well aware of O`Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead, and have most likely witnessed some of his screenplay work in several of the movies in the Alien franchise, and other horror films like Lifeforce. Just like the original Lovecraft story, it starts in a mental asylum where Charles is incarcerated, and then the story moves backwards in order tell what happened. It’s set up a bit like a detective mystery, with a pretty blonde wife begging the investigator for help and all. Set in the modern times, which were the 90’s when the movie was made, works well enough. The opening scene which includes a bit of blood and gore before getting a scene where the investigator starts retelling his experience, helps fuel the story as the next parts are, unfortunately, a little bit too slow before it finally picks up the pace and delivers.
While there were some issues with the pacing, the viewing experience was upheld by a constant feeling of mystery. You keep wondering what Charles has been doing at the farmhouse, but it takes a little too much time to actually get there. Once secrets are revealed we get some really nice shots of monstrous creatures and a hellish underground basement lab. While apparently trying to veer away from your typical B-Horror cheeseflick with a more serious approach, there’s no doubt that once the blood, guts, and otherworldly creatures fill the screen we get to see that this movie doesn’t stray too far away from the B-movie range. And I mean that in a positive way, of course. Originally, O`Bannon actually planned for the movie to have more humor, but it was re-edited and re-cut which removed this, much to his disapproval.
Despite a few flaws, The Resurrected is a decent horror film with an ominous mystery-fueled atmosphere, great creature-effects by Todd Masters, and a fitting music score by Richard Band.
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Writer: Brent V. Friedman
Country & year: US, 1991
Actors: John Terry, Jane Sibbett, Chris Sarandon, Robert Romanus, Laurie Briscoe, Ken Camroux-Taylor, Patrick P. Pon, Bernard Cuffling, J.B. Bivens, Robert Sidley, Des Smiley, Eric Newton